Thursday, April 30, 2015

More Implications of Religious Freedom

If we as a society decide that "sincere religious beliefs" override any regulation for which the government cannot assert a compelling interest, it naturally follows that this principle must apply to everyone regardless of religion. And, as long as it does, I don't really have a problem with the notion. If we are going to assert that religious freedom is a defining principle on which the United States was founded, then that freedom must be extended to all, universally.

With that in mind, a Missouri woman who is a member of The Satanic Temple plans to assert her religious right to bypass a state-mandated abortion waiting period. When conservatives failed to make abortion illegal, they resolved to pass all sorts of restrictions at the state level to make it as difficult as possible for women to obtain the procedure. But seeing as there's no evidence that waiting periods serve any real function beyond making abortions harder to obtain, it seems to me that this woman's assertion of her rights is entirely reasonable.

As you know, state law requires a waiting period after I first receive counseling before I can undergo an abortion. I regard a waiting period as a state sanctioned attempt to discourage abortion by instilling an unnecessary burden as part of the process to obtain this legal medical procedure. The waiting period interferes with the inviolability of my body and thereby imposes an unwanted and substantial burden on my sincerely held religious beliefs.

This letter constitutes my acknowledgment that you have notified me of the state mandated waiting period, but demands that you do not abide by this obligation because the waiting period offends my sincerely held religious beliefs, which take precedent.

The Satanic Temple has also weighed in on the case, and plans to pursue legal action if officials refuse to exempt her from the waiting period.

As Satanists we believe in individual autonomy, personal choice, and the inviolability of one’s own body. Further, we believe one should be free to make one’s own decisions, uncoerced, based on the best available scientific evidence, whether or not the science comports with the religious and/or political views of others.

Seeing as fundamentalist Christians are as up in arms about legal abortion as they are about same-sex marriage, I expect them to strongly oppose the exemption. But the reality is that regulations like waiting periods accomplish nothing besides imposing an additional burden on women who have to travel long distances, since other regulations pushed by the same folks wind up shutting down many clinics. In Missouri, the only clinic that performs abortions is in St. Louis, so women from around the state often have to travel hundreds of miles only to be told that they have to wait.

It will be very interesting to watch how this case plays out.

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